3. CHRISTIAN MORAL
The Christian vocation is heard in the teaching of Christ, the Savior,
who instructed his disciples to "be perfect therefore as your
heavenly Father is perfect" (Mt. 5,48). The perfection of God
is his love, for God is love (I Jn. 4,8,12). The Christian is aware
that discipleship of Jesus means imitation of him whose love was
so great that he did not hesitate to lay down his life for all (Jn.
15,13). The Church announces the totality of the mystery of Christ.
It echoes his call to us to be converted and to follow along his
way, stressing in all things the primacy of charity. The Church
is the heir of divine revelation and proclaims Christ and his message
to further his mission and to summon men and women to respond in
faith, hope and love.
The Church is also called "God's people" (I Peter 2,9-10).
It is within the setting of the Christian fellowship that one hears
the call of Christ and is moved to respond with the fullness of
one's being. The call is never ending and the response should be
constant and willing. Through the power of the presence of the Holy
Spirit, God's gift to his people, the Church accepts responsibility
for taking part in the formation of the individual conscience, always
aware that it is the secret core and sanctuary where each of us
enjoys an intimacy with God. The Christian derives much benefit
from the riches of the Church, i.e. the Scriptures, the community,
worship and teaching, all of which have their effect in order that
each person may bring forth much fruit.
The Christian likewise is called to live in the setting of creation,
and enjoys the society of men and women. Here the Church stands
as a student and teacher. It learns from human developments and
is enriched by advances in empirical sciences and behavioral studies.
It thus becomes aware of human problems and difficulties and is
prepared to bring its own insights and sensitivity to the search
for solutions. It is strongly aware of the presence of evil which
seeks to challenge the Kingdom of God. It therefore does not hesitate
to identify and confront what is evil in order to preserve and affirm
what is good.
Church is likewise aware of a person's propensity to sin and failures.
It supports every effort to answer the call to perfection. The Church
acts in mercy and kindness but when challenged in matters of morality
is compelled in the Spirit to speak.
The Lord has called us to repent and believe that the Good News
and therefore this call to conversion should manifest itself in
the activity of the Christian. We have said earlier that "We
acknowledge ourselves as under the imperatives of love that follow
from the summons to seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness,
in our lives and in his world" and to pursue "more effective
ways of expressing our faith, hope and love in and to the world
for which Christ died" (cf. above, § 31).
acknowledge that belief and behavior, faith and works, should not
be separated. Therefore issues of ethics and morality, which involve
the relation between conscience and authority, are not peripheral
to but at the heart of the faithful hearing of the Gospel.
Whether we see conscience as a separate faculty or as the mobilizing
of all our faculties to discern the good and shun evil, we agree
that the human capacity we call conscience is the gift of God and
is of vital significance for the moral life.
does not act as an independent source of moral information. Since
people have the responsibility of fostering, protecting and following
their conscience, it needs to be formed and informed and must therefore
be open to guidance from authority.
in moral decision-making, as in coming to terms with doctrinal formulations,
the Christian is one who stands under authority. The normative authority
is Scripture interpreted in the light of Tradition (the living voice
of the Church), Reason and Experience (cf. above, § 34).
People have both the responsibility to see that their conscience
is open to authoritative guidance and the right freely and faithfully
to follow that conscience. Thus we agree that no one is to be forced
to act in a manner contrary to conscience, or to be restrained from
acting according to conscience, "as long as the just requirements
of public order are observed" (Vatican II: Declaration on Religious
Freedom, n. 2) and the rights of others are not infringed.
are agreed that "freedom of conscience" does not mean
"make up your mind on moral matters with no reference to any
other authority than your own sense of right and wrong". There
may come a point when the Church is compelled to say, "If you
persist in exercising your freedom of conscience in this way you
put yourself outside the Church".
We agree in asserting the importance of natural law which God himself
enables us to perceive. In this perception the supernatural gift
of prevenient grace plays a major part. "No man is entirely
destitute of what is vulgarly called natural conscience. But this
is not natural: it is more properly termed preventing grace... Everyone,
unless he be one of the small number whose conscience is seared
with a hot iron, feels more or less uneasy when he acts contrary
to the light of his own conscience" (J. Wesley, Works, VI,
485). The natural law which is thus discerned stems from the generous
provision of the Creator God.
is revealed in Jesus Christ, our Incarnate Redeemer, is God's hidden
purpose already being worked out through the whole of his creation;
the "ethics of revelation" do not negate but are consistent
with the created order within which God brings human nature to its
fulfilment. ("Our human nature is the work of your hands made
still more wonderful by your work of redemption", Collect of
Christmas Day, Roman Breviary). Therefore moral theologies based
on natural law and those that appeal more directly to an "ethic
of revelation" need not be in conflict. Consequently the moral
judgements the Christian makes, as a Christian, are not in fulfilment
of an imposed divine imperative alien to his own well-being but
are a response to the will of God to enhance and fulfil all that
is genuinely human. While we can distinguish between the duties
one has as a member of the Church and as a member of the human community,
these should be seen as harmonious, with conscience providing guidance
in both spheres.
recognize that in both our Churches official statements and actions
are frequently assigned greater authority than they are entitled
to. Conflict about what weight to give to such statements and actions
can thereby arise within the individual conscience, and between
We have already indicated (above, §§ 27 and 34) that we
are in agreement that the Church must always be subject to the headship
of the Incarnate Lord and that the Holy Spirit makes Christ present
to us, so mediating his authority to us in love through Word and
Sacraments; these in turn are witnessed to by the worshiping community
and by Creeds and Confessions. Only then do we come to the point
of divergence, which must not be allowed to obscure this agreement.
Within this context, what persons or bodies in the Church can give
guidance on moral issues and with what authority?
In both our Churches we have various procedures for offering guidance
on moral issues, and this Commission recognizes the need for closer
study and comparison of these procedures. In neither Church does
the following out of these procedures always match the ideal, for
each Church recognizes "how great a distance lies between the
message she offers and the human failings of those to whom the Gospel
is entrusted" (Vatican II: Church in the Modern World, 43).
both our Churches we are under ecclesiastical authority, but we
recognize a difference in that some pronouncements of the Catholic
Church are seen as requiring a higher degree of conscientious assent
from Catholics than the majority of pronouncements of the responsible
bodies of Methodism require of Methodists.
there are differences between us on what decisions should be made
and what actions taken on particular moral and ethical issues, we
need to look not just at these differences but at what gives rise
to them, in each case enquiring whether they reflect only social
and historical conditions or fundamental divisions over issues of
conscience and authority.
Both the Denver and the Dublin reports contain sections on "Christian
Home and Family"
wish to reaffirm what was said in these reports, particularly the
general picture of Christian marriage presented in Denver, §
71, and the call to common witness "to the centrality of marriage
in God's purpose for the human community" so strongly voiced
in the Dublin report, § 39.
discussions have led us further in our agreement about the sacramental
nature of marriage and its implications for the wider community.
In particular we are able to affirm that it is not only the wedding
but the whole marriage that is sacramental. The relationship, the
continual, lived out, total giving and sharing of the spouses is
a genuine sign of God's love for us, Christ's love for us, Christ's
love for the Church.
Catholics speak of marriage as a sacrament and Methodists do not,
we would both affirm, in the words of the introduction to the 1979
"Service of Christian Marriage" of the United Methodist
Church: "Christian marriage is the sign of a lifelong covenant
between a man and a woman. They fulfil each other, and their love
gives birth to new life in each and through each. This union of
love is possible only because Christ is the bond of unity... The
marriage of a baptised couple is a covenant between equals that
celebrates their unity in Jesus Christ. They make a little family
within the household of God; a little church' in the Body
of Christ... The Protestant reformers of the sixteenth century were
unwilling to call marriage a sacrament because they did not regard
matrimony as a necessary means of grace for salvation. Though not
necessary for salvation, certainly marriage is a means of grace,
thus, sacramental in character. It is a covenant grounded in God's
love. A Christian marriage is both a plea for and an expression
of daily grace" (p. 14). So too the Introduction to the 1969
Rite of Marriage of the Roman Catholic Church teaches: "Married
Christians, in virtue of the sacrament of matrimony, signify and
share in the mystery of that unity and fruitful love which exists
between Christ and his Church; they help each other to attain the
holiness in their married life and in the rearing and education
of their children and they have their own special gift among the
people of God" (§ 1).
Marriage is sacramental in nature because it is the living and life-giving
union in which the covenantal love of God is made real. This is
the point of Ephesians 5,21-34, where marriage is related to "a
great mystery; but that I mean in reference to Christ and the Church"
text is actually speaking of two mysteries, both hidden from the
beginning: the mystery of marriage and the mystery of Christ and
his Church. It points out that Christian marriage is inserted into
the sphere of redemption and that married love is sanctifying in
all its spiritual and physical expressions.
Old Testament image of marriage as a covenant describing God's relationship
with Israel illustrates the richness and power of imagery. The covenant
tradition in Hosea is really a multiplicity of images which extends
into images of marriage, of land, and of fatherhood. The story is
a intricate, often puzzling blend of the bonded and the broken,
and by reflecting on their own daily experience in the light of
it married couples might greatly enrich their lives.
significance of the man-woman relationship of life and love in relationship
to Christ and to the Church is proclaimed in the medieval use of
Sarum, the preferred rite of the English Churches prior to the Reformation
(dependent in turn on the Gregorian Sacramentary), a text now used
in the revised Roman Rite of Marriage.
marriage is a sign of Christ's covenant with the Church, precisely
because as a social institution it is perceived as a covenant, is
clearly stated in the nuptial blessing of the Sarum use: "O
God, you consecrated the union of marriage by a mystery so profound
as to prefigure in the marriage covenant the sacrament of Christ
and the Church. O God, you join woman and man and give to their
alliance, the first to be established by you, that blessing which
enriches it, and which alone was not forfeited in punishment for
original sin by the curse of the Deluge". The mystery is not
only in the "mysterious" union of Christ and his Church
but also in human marriage itself. Thus, marriage is a natural sign
of a holy mystery precisely because the relationship, conjugal and
parental, is what Christ takes up and sanctifies.
The richness of this vision of Christian marriage can be explored
endlessly. It speaks of the reciprocal illumination between the
natural and the supernatural, between the world of creation and
the world of redemption, between the secular and the sacred. The
good gift of the creator becomes also a personal gift of the Savior.
This vision shows that the sacramentality of marriage is not to
be limited to the marriage ceremony, since the entire fabric of
the marriage lived out by the couple is what constitutes its ecclesial
When we assert that the sacramentality of marriage springs from
the whole of the marriage, several themes can be noted in particular
as belonging to the sacramentality and spirituality of the marriage
The couple's daily love for each other, not only with its joys but
also with its pains, sufferings and uncertainties over so many years,
reflects the covenant love of God for us. The couple's sexual sharing
should itself be understood as sacramental.
- The couple's love for their children not only in bearing them,
but even more so in the years of love and care for them, proclaims
or sacramentalizes God's love for all of us.
- The couple's reaching out in concern to the larger community is
also very much a part of the sacramental witness of marriage.
demands of a marriage as it develops are themselves a source of
For the Christian marriage demands commitment, fidelity and permanence.
However unpopular this may be today, the Church must proclaim it
because it is the will of God and revealed in Scripture and expressed
in the liturgy.
commitment of the spouses to love for each other is rooted in their
love for God (cf. Mt. 22, 3 3-40) and His love for them. Their communion
is made possible by the God who loves them first (cf. I John 4,17).
counters the deepest and most pervasive temptation of marriage,
that of withdrawing into a self-centered and privatized' life.
Marital fidelity is not purely negative, a mere safeguard; it is
a self-giving that creates a community of love and life and a deeper
mutual trust in which there can be greater freedom and openness
to others. But such faithfulness is anchored in God who makes faithful
We all subscribe to this teaching on Christ's will for matrimonial
permanence and fidelity and this despite our different approaches
to the problems of matrimonial nullity and of marital breakdown.
We believe that further dialogue on these topics may well reveal
closer unity of understanding, since we are all alarmed at the trivialization
of marriage and the increase of divorce in the societies from which
The bond of Christian marital union between man and woman is holy
by its nature. Through their commitment to marital partnership the
spouses pledge themselves to love and serve one another in Christ.
Marriage likewise is ordered to the procreation and education of
children. The marital union thus grows into the unit of the family.
Here the marriage partners are associated with the creation work
of God who both blessed and charged man and woman at the beginning
"Be fruitful and multiply" (Gen. 1,28). Human intimacy
and human responsibility thus deepen and mature as all the family
members grow in wisdom, age and grace before God and men and with
Married couples need to discover and affirm the beauty and the treasure
of Christian marriage. Because marriage is a sacramental covenant
it is a living, prophetic sign to all people. The love and life
of a married couple is a particular visible and credible expression
of the universal "loving kindness and fidelity" of the
Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. In this way the spouses and their
children should be open to the wider community in which other people
become their neighbors in Christ.
A blessing at the end of the Rite of Marriage
of the Roman Catholic Church concludes:
you always bear witness to the love of God in this world, so that
the afflicted and the needy will find in you generous friend,
and welcome you into the joys of heaven".
the Introduction to the Marriage Service of the United Methodist
Church reminds us that
purpose of Christian marriage is not only to fulfil the needs
of domestic intimacy, but also to enable the family to accept
duties and responsibilities in the Christian community for society
at large... The family...is a domestic Church'" (p.
A feeling which emerged from our last meeting (agreed to be one
of the best we have had) and from reflection on the past quinquennium
as a whole is that any further stage of our dialogue should concentrate
more intensive study on such problems or differences as have recurred
and seemed most obstinate in the past three quinquennia. This greater
concentration was we believe already beginning during the past five
the belief that time will be saved if a program is already set out
for the consideration of our Churches in this report, we unanimously
submit the following themes and suggestions for procedure:
for quinquennium: THE NATURE OF THE CHURCH
1. The Doctrine of the Church.
Year 2. The Church as Institution (Structures and Polity)
Year 3. The Doctrine of the Primacy
Year 4. The Church in the Modern World (cf. Denver report: etc).
program for the first year: DOCTRINE OF THE CHURCH (Feb. 1982).
There would be four papers:
a) General paper on Sacrament and Sign (the Sacramental ideaa
philosophical and theological paper)
b) The Church as Sacrament: how God works through his Church
c) The Word and the Church
d) Universal and Local: the Communities and the Church (NOTE:
this to be a doctrinal paper).
would be responsible for papers (a) and (c), Catholics for (b) and
Each paper would be matched by a response prepared
by a designated member of the other team; the paper would be sent
to him well in advance of the meeting to ensure this.
Our experience strongly underlines the advantage of having papers
available to all members in advance and we propose as a principle
that writers of papers should aim to get them to the secretaries
two months before the meeting. A short bibliography is also useful.
Finally we would hope that both the WMC and the Catholic authorities
would endorse the importance of the dialogue and ask that those
taking part give it high priority among their engagements.
We submit these recommendations in a spirit of thankfulness to God
for what has been achieved, of confidence that continued dialogue
of a more concentrated kind on central issues will continue to bear
fruit, and of hope that this and earlier reports will be more widely
studied in our Churches and lead to a steady increase in that cooperation
between Catholics and Methodists which is already encouragingly
evident in many places.
What we have shared and said together about the Holy Spirit enhances
our confidence about the future of our relations. We are all alike
under the judgement of God, but all alike confident of the presence
and power of his Spirit, which is Love. That Spirit brought us into
dialogue; has produced fruits of that dialogue; while we continue
joyfully to accept this authority and prompting we cannot presume
to set limits to what he may yet work in us. While we continue to
work at our problems we are challenged to neglect no opportunity
of witnessing in common to what God does for us and offers to all
persons. Such witness we can be sure will already carry its own
Service 46 (1981/II) 84-96]